On June 9, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a new bill designed to ensure Virginia consumers can purchase vehicles that will be equipped with automated technologies and will have access to driving technologies that promote advanced safety standards. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will take part in the testing and use of the new technologies.

The legislation states that motor vehicles may be equipped with visual displays of moving images if the equipment is factory-installed and has an interlock device that disables the equipment when the human driver is performing the driving task. While the current law allows a visual display in a motor vehicle, the new bill allows the display of moving images to be viewed while an automated driving system is activated.

“Making Virginia a leader in emerging industries like autonomous vehicles is an essential part of our efforts to grow and diversify our economy,” McAuliffe said. “I am proud of the progress we are making in Richmond and at great centers of research and innovation like Virginia Tech to pave the way for a new generation of automotive advancements and economic growth.”

The bill also allows the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue standard license plates to automated vehicles used by institutions of higher learning — such as the transportation institute — for purposes of vehicle technology research. This new provision should result in enhanced and unbiased research results.

“Naturalistic testing of automated vehicles on public roadways requires that we not highlight the vehicles as ‘different,’” said Myra Blanco, director of the transportation institute’s Center for Public Policy, Partnerships, and Outreach. “Conducting naturalistic data collection with a standard license plate — meaning the vehicle could not be easily identified from other vehicles on the roadway — allows us to perform a realistic comparison to other vehicles and traffic. This ensures any differences on user performance, either inside or outside of the vehicle, are not due to the vehicle being differentiated among others on the roadway while the testing is performed.”

As a pioneer of the naturalistic driving study method, the institute — which was recently named among the Best of Research & Development in Virginia by the Southern Business & Development magazine — has long led real-world testing and development of next-generation vehicular technology, with the goal of enhancing driver safety, mobility, and sustainability.

Earlier this year, the institute authored a Google-commissioned report in which national crash data and data from naturalistic driving studies were used to better estimate existing crash rates. These rates were then compared to data from Google’s Self-Driving Car program. The institute also recently led a demonstration of automated and connected vehicles along Interstate 95 in Arlington, Virginia, as part of the Virginia Automated Corridors created in partnership between the transportation institute; the Virginia Department of Transportation; the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; Transurban; and HERE, a high-definition mapping business.

Shane McLaughlin, director of the transportation institute’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, participated in the signing of the legislation, along with representatives from the Volkswagen Group of America, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, The City of Virginia Beach, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Virginia Auto Dealers Association, Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph (R – Virginia Beach; Senate Bill 286) and Delegate Glenn R. Davis, Jr. (R – Virginia Beach; House Bill 454).

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